At Bethlehem's Tre Scalini, the ambience is the message. Here the understated decor sets a timeless tone of quiet refinement that reminded me that the equation of fine dining is much more an art than a science.
This restaurant, which opened in April, has taken up residence along Broad Street in a beige brick building with burgundy shutters and a decided brownstone feel. That sense of gentility sets the stage for the aesthetic decor, a work of art in its own right in the style, perhaps, of a minimalist still life.
Black, deep as the midnight sky, brings the high ceiling down to size, playing counterpoint to the red linoleum floor. Objets d'art fill just a few alcoves in the winter white walls, adding graceful curves that take the geometry of the dining room's design outside the box. Crimson walls in the kitchen area loudly proclaim the center of the restaurant's universe.
The evening of my visit, the food didn't reach quite the same level of excellence as the decor, but it was fine fare, nonetheless. Tre Scalini's Italian/New American cuisine is not the business-as-usual stuff of the neighborhood pizza joint. No pizza, lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo or veal Marsala here.
Instead, the handful of entrees and dozen or so pasta offerings include selections such as ''farfalle Alessandro'' (pasta sauteed with spinach, cream and roasted red peppers, topped with Parmesan cheese), ''caserecce Benevento'' (pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage in light white wine sauce) and ''veal Kelsey'' (medallions with prosciutto and provolone).
Lady luck smiled on my visit with a table smack dab in front of the fireplace. It was a lovely spot, soothing and serene.
An October dinner by the fire seemed just the right setting for pumpkin soup and so it was. From the evening's specials list, this aromatic and subtly flavored potage, barely the color of a peach, was gently enriched with marscapone cheese.
We sampled another special, stuffed focaccia, chewy and gooey with melted cheese. Grilling, apparent from the bread's charred markings outside, provided intense smoky flavor that overshadowed the fresh mozzarella, roasted red pepper and olive stuffing.
Tre Scalini's bread, from Wegman's, was firm, dense and crusty, with a sesame seed coating that provided added texture. Lightly seasoned olive oil for dipping proved hard to resist.
''Pesca fresca'' the grilled fresh fish offering of the day was tilapia in Chianti sauce with fresh sage, capers and tomatoes. Layered with flavor, the bold and complex sauce was fine balance to the mild fish, cooked just to firm and not a second beyond. Less enjoyable, however, was the accompanying polenta, tepid at best.
Great tasting, fat ribbons of pasta served as the foundation of ''Tre Scalini Bolognese,'' but the homemade ''pappardelli,'' unfortunately, congealed into a large lump that required unraveling. Earthy, peasant-style Sicilian ragu, thick with savory depth of flavor, topped the pasta, along with Parmesan cheese.
Rather standard dessert offerings such as tiramisu and cannoli were joined at Tre Scalini by more unusual selections like tiramisu cake and pumpkin sorbet served in a pumpkin. The intrigue of a ''magic cube,'' however, proved to be the trick that lured me to this treat.
Imported from Italy, the smallish square featured layers of white chocolate mousse, chocolate mousse, and cherry ganache atop a biscuit enrobed in an ever-so-thin, dark and deep chocolate coating. Ultimately, it was the speed of the cube's disappearing act that turned out to be its true magic.
Both the cappuccino and espresso were top-flight. I especially enjoyed the former so often lukewarm, but still steaming like a witch's brew when it was served at Tre Scalini.
Susan Gottshall is a freelance restaurant reviewer for Go Guide. Gottshall, who tells it like it is, attempts to remain anonymous during restaurant visits. All meals are paid for by The Morning Call.
Linda O'Connell, Assistant
Managing Editor, Features
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